Let's play two! It’s opening day at the Corn Crib!
A few final touches remained Tuesday at the Corn Crib, where the Kernels Collegiate League season kicks off Thursday night with a double header featuring the Merchants and BlueCaps at 5 p.m., followed by the Bobcats against the Ground Sloths.
Between the Kernel league and Normal CornBelters, baseball happens at the Corn Crib almost nightly through the summer, plus an outdoor concert series. So, things are busy at the stadium in Normal.
A few staff members took a break in the shade to talk about what goes into creating a great guest experience — and makes the Corn Crib a standard bearer among their peer group.
Gavin Legett is a Bloomington-Normal native. He started working at the Corn Crib concession stand as a high schooler and steadily moved up the ladder — first to director of food and beverage, then director of sales and finally to assistant general manager.
“We’re overseeing the day-to-day operations of the facility, mainly the stadium,” Legett said. “We have activity in here every day. Communicating with sponsors is my big role here.”
The Corn Crib was Kate Swope’s first job as a 16-year-old. She became a summer concession worker three years ago and now leads the concession team during events.
“I basically delegate and (am) the ‘boss woman’ of the whole concession stand,” she said. Swope was a manager for several sports teams in high school and loves being behind the scenes.
“I really like the statistics of it and all that," she said. "It’s really cool to me.”
The entire Corn Crib operation includes six full-time employees, 57 interns and up to 40 part-time and seasonal staff like Swope. It takes a team of about 50 people to create a successful game day.
The demand is even greater this weekend, which includes daily double headers beginning Thursday, and Saturday’s Big Summer Blowout, complete with fireworks, a carnival atmosphere and mascot Corny on hand to greet guests.
Then there are the food and drinks, including the 1,800 bottles of beer they expect to sell to a crowd of about 2,000 people. The Corn Crib keeps a weekly supply of 1,200 hot dogs and 100 pounds of popcorn kernels — plus fan jerseys, ball caps and, of course, 500 bobble heads.
Bradley Yochum was heavily involved in high school sports while growing up in upstate New York.
“I played football, I wrestled and I tried track for one season,” he said, laughing.
Yochum was a sports management intern at the Corn Crib last summer. Former interns have moved into jobs with prestigious franchises, including the Tampa Bay Rays, Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers, to name a few.
In August 2022, Yochum joined the full-time staff as year-round director of facilities. Yochum’s broad jurisdiction includes everything from trash collection and cleaning restrooms to maintaining clubhouses and turf — even planting corn on the stadium’s grassy hillside.
Yochum tries to keep the guest experience top of mind, a skill he passes down to interns and part-time employees while doing tasks like cleaning the stadium in the hot summer sun.
“You’ve just really got to see the big picture,” Yochum said. “It’s for the fans. If that means I’ve got to be bending down picking up trash, it is totally worth it.”
“In moments like that, creating those memories, for me, is what’s important here,” added Legett, who frequented the Corn Crib with his family as a kid. “Baseball is such a small percentage of what we do here. We are more so an entertainment venue and really a place for people to come out and create those memories.”
Corny’s Big Summer Blowout takes place from 4-10 p.m. Saturday at the Corn Crib, 1000 Raab Road in Normal. Single event tickets start at $8, available at cornbeltersbasball.com.